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Sewer line has that sinking feeling

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

It turns out, there really is quicksand under 10th Street in Middletown.

People started complaining to town hall about three weeks ago about a dip in the road near Locust Street. At first, town leaders thought it was a sinkhole.

Around the same time, sand started showing up in the water treatment plant. This keyed everyone in that there was something amiss under the blacktop.

Middletown Clerk-Treasurer Drew Cooper explained that a 100-year old clay tile sewer main collapsed and started sucking the sand into the line.

“They really can’t point to any one thing that caused this,” Cooper said. “It’s just old and broke.”

The line is 22 feet below the surface of the road and surrounded by what Cooper called a “sugar sand” that is very fine and loose, like quicksand.

Anyone who tries to work on the sewer line will need to take special precautions to hold back the sandy soil. If too much of the ground moves, it could damage the foundations of neighboring homes, Cooper said.

Water resources engineer Matt Spidel sought out project bids for companies to come in and fix the broken line. The one bid that Spidel brought to the Middletown Town Council this week was for $440,000.

For comparison, that is roughly the same amount the town paid in the past to fix an entire block of water lines.

Cooper said the town is looking for emergency grant money to help cover the repair costs. One resource might be the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), which has helped several Henry County communities in the past.

Middletown might also consider other bids for the project. The concern for town leaders is that whoever wins the bid has to be capable of handling the job safely.

“We’ve got to get the sewage to the treatment plant. We’ve got to fix that pipe,” Cooper said. “We’re actively searching some way to try to do it cheaper.”

The exact history of 10th Street is shrouded in the fog of time. Some stories say it used to be a dried up creek bed before town planners built a road there.

Now, 10th Street is a main thoroughfare for the town.

Cooper explained that the 10th Street pipe line handles a quarter of the town’s sewage. The workload is compounded by the fact that the 10th Street section still handles stormwater, too.

Since the line broke, the town has used a diesel-powered pump to bypass the broken section of pipe. The road is shut down and a large hose snakes down the street before dropping into a manhole a block away.

Cooper said the pump has run 24 hours a day since they discovered the problem. It’s keeping sand out of the lines and keeping the sewage from spilling out of the broken pipe.

Middletown is currently looking for an electric pump so neighbors are not disturbed by the noise.

Cooper said another factor that the town has to deal with is that most contractor companies are too busy right now to immediately start working on the Middletown project.

Even the company that offered to do the job for $440,000 can’t start for another month.

“It’s going to be 30, 60, maybe 90 days before this is fixed,” Cooper said.